News / Health

Patient Cured of HIV Provides Hope for Researchers

Suzanne Presto
WASHINGTON — Timothy Brown, a 46-year-old from the western United States, was once known in medical journals as "the Berlin Patient."  He is the man who had HIV, but doesn't anymore.

Brown revealed his identity in 2010, three years after an innovative treatment battled both the HIV and an acute form of cancer in his body.  He now promotes AIDS research.  

"I do have some mobility problems, but apart from that, I feel great.  Yes, it's great being cured," he said last month in Washington at a policy briefing organized by The Foundation for AIDS Research, or amfAR.   

Doctors say he is the first person to be considered cured of HIV.

"I am functionally cured, which means that I don't have any effects from the virus, and I don't have to take medication against the virus," Brown said.  "And as long as it stays that way, which I'm pretty sure it will, I'm okay with that."

Brown was living in Berlin when he tested positive for HIV in 1995.  He took medications to manage the virus.  More than a decade passed, and he started to feel excessively fatigued.  A bone marrow biopsy in 2006 revealed leukemia.      

After chemotherapy treatments, Brown's oncologist, Gero Huetter, suggested a bone marrow transplant.  

Dr. Huetter knew that 1 out of 100 people, mostly northern Europeans, are highly resistant to HIV due to a genetic mutation.  Simply put, they lack doorways that allow HIV to enter their cells.  

Paula Cannon, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, told the crowd assembled for the amfAR briefing that the HIV-resistant mutation was well known to the small group of medical researchers who specialized in HIV.  She explained that when people with the genetic mutation are exposed to HIV, the virus "has nowhere to go and sort of fizzles out."
 
In 2007, Brown went through total body irradiation and then received a bone marrow transplant from an HIV-resistant donor.  He immediately stopped taking HIV medication.  Although the leukemia returned, the HIV did not.  

"The first transplant went well but the second one was pretty horrible, and I wouldn't wish what I went through on my worst enemy," Brown recalls.  His complications included delirium, and he suffered neurological damage.        

Researchers stress that such transplants are very dangerous for patients and should only be done in extreme circumstances.   

"Tim had it not because he was HIV-positive," Cannon told the amfAR group. "He had it because otherwise he would have died of leukemia."   

Brown, who used to work as a translator and has limited financial resources, says his life is now devoted to providing hope.

"It's kind of hard sometimes, like, dealing with people who still have HIV.  I'm like, I kind of get a guilt feeling because I..." Brown's voice trails off for a moment. "That's basically why I'm going around the world and talking to people.  I want there to be research."

Dr. Robert Siliciano of Johns Hopkins University says Timothy Brown has been tested repeatedly and there is no confirmed evidence of HIV in his system.  Dr. Siliciano acknowledges that there is some controversy about the fact that a few tests suggest trace amounts of HIV in Brown's system.  But the doctor notes the techniques being used can pick up a single molecule, so false positives are a strong possibility.
 
"Also, there's the fact that Tim has been off treatment for five years and the virus has not started to replicate, so I think you're cured," Dr. Siliciano told Brown at the amfAR briefing, prompting Brown to laugh and offer his thanks.   

Dr. Susan Blumenthal, a senior policy and medical adviser for amfAR, says Brown's case has changed the path of cure research.  
 
"It has inspired us to put 75 percent of our research dollars into finding a cure," says Dr. Blumenthal.  "I think he's a courageous person."

Tim Brown says that he was "scared to death" when he was diagnosed with HIV and again when he was diagnosed with leukemia.  

"Somehow I knew in my heart that I would survive, even though the odds were against me," he said.  "I was probably the first patient that they had in the hospital who would work out in the hospital room. I brought equipment to work out with, and I wanted to stay in shape.  I didn't want to lay in bed and give up, so that was probably a large part of it."  

He adds that it is important for very ill people to have somebody to count on, as he did.

Brown's case galvanizes researchers such as Paula Cannon, who uses gene therapy to develop cells with the HIV-resistant mutation.   

"He's really a symbol of what we can do, what we can aspire to, and hope, and oh my goodness, motivation in buckets," exclaims Cannon.

Cannon says scientists are trying to introduce the HIV-resistant mutation into a person's own bone marrow, making it HIV-resistant.  That would eliminate the risks involved with receiving a transplant from a foreign donor.

Cannon's own HIV research involves a special type of mice.  

"We can do a transplant of human bone marrow into these mice and they will grow us a little human immune system.  We can then infect the mice with HIV, and importantly, we can cure the mice of HIV," explains Cannon.  "So, in the mice, we were able to show that we have the tools now to cure them of HIV, and so we're now trying to translate that into the much bigger mammal, the human being."

You May Like

Mugabe Dismisses Male-Female Equality

'It is not possible that women can be at par with men' incoming African Union president declares on eve of summit More

Somali Terror Suspect's Light Sentence Raises Questions

Abdullahi Yusuf, 18, could have spent 15 years in prison but judge instead sentenced him to a halfway house, and a program to try to integrate him back into the community More

Video Kobani Ravaged Following Kurdish Ouster of IS Militants

Even so, hundreds of refugees sheltering in Turkey seek to return; Kurdish forces hold some back, saying fighting continues More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid